Primer: How To Re-Waterproof A Jacket

Odds are if you’re reading this you’ve only just figured out that waterproof jackets don’t last forever. In fact, it’s not out of the question to assume your waterproof jacket has seen upwards of five or six seasons of use and abuse without any maintenance at all. For it’s often far too late when we’re caught in that summer shower and our preferred rain jacket fails to live up to its purpose that we begin questioning its merit. However, things don’t have to take a turn for the worst and purchasing a new jacket altogether doesn’t have to be the only recourse.

Instead, you can re-waterproof that prized possession of yours quite easily, extending its lifespan and keeping some additional coin in your pocket in the process. Plus, there’s sentimental value to consider. You and that favorite jacket of yours have seen a lot, and been through a lot, so the best way to keep up the tradition is to re-waterproof your jacket about once a year. Here’s how it’s done.

Why Re-Waterproof?

Know Your DWR

Just like any other DIY fix, the first step in rendering a problem is understanding what went wrong in the first place. Part of this ritual necessitates a basic understanding of what you’re working with – the mechanics rather – of the product at hand. In this case, we’re speaking of the DWR (durable water-repellant) finish featured on most rain jackets. In short, this is a hydrophobic finish that lets the jacket remain breathable yet keeps it waterproof. the first step in rendering a problem is understanding what went wrong in the first place.Over time, however, this coating thins during normal wear and tear. It’s also highly susceptible to chemicals such as DEET -commonly found in insect repellant – body oils, heavy use in the outdoors and smoke from campfires. Simply put, re-waterproofing your jacket is the necessary process of re-coating your jacket with a DWR finish. A task that’s actually quite simple and straightforward.


6 Easy Steps

With the right gear and patience, re-waterproofing a jacket is an easy process to complete. Plus, with a little diligence from the get-go, that new waterproofed essential will remain in good hands for years to come – all it takes is a yearly clean and re-application of a DWR finish to keep these performing like new season after season.

  1. Inspect the Jacket: Before getting started, take a good look at the jacket. Remove any free-floating items from the pockets (pocket knives, notebooks, flashlights, etc) and try to give it a thorough inspection – asking yourself is there anything you can clean by hand first? Remember, prepping is key.

  2. Wash The Jacket: Despite what you may have heard about waterproof jackets, it’s okay (and actually recommended) to wash them every so often as dirt, smoke, and natural oils can lead to both an overall breakdown of the DWR finish and clogging of the breathable membrane – opening up a whole other can of problematic worms.

    Washing your jacket beforehand also allows for your DWR spray to properly adhere to the surface afterward. Otherwise, leftover contaminants on the jacket will prevent the treatment from sticking. With that in mind, place the jacket in a front-loading washing machine. It’s also imperative to ensure all leftover detergent is removed from the dispenser as well. Now, use a detergent purposed for waterproof clothes that won’t ruin the fabric but get everything spick and span for the DWR treatment that’s soon to follow. Be sure to set the cycle to heavy and use warm water as well.

  3. Rinse It: After the initial wash, go ahead and rinse the jacket so no detergent residue is left on the exterior. This can be accomplished via either a detergent-less cycle in the wash or by hand. Just make sure the entire piece is good and clean.

  4. Spray On the DWR Treatment: Once everything is rinsed, go ahead and hang your jacket up on a hanger and begin spraying it with your re-waterproofing finish. Feel free to properly douse it as well. If this seems repetitive, keep in mind that the detergent used in the wash was only purposed to clean the jacket, not waterproof it. Since you don’t need a DWR finish inside of the jacket, spraying the outside is the preferable option.

  5. 5) Let the Treatment Dry: Don’t make the same mistake as most people and put the jacket to use right after spraying it. Instead, let the treatment thoroughly dry. You can also toss it in the dryer (DWR-dependant of course) so be sure to read the instructions first. We suggest tumble dry it on low heat for about ten minutes then let it hang overnight.

  6. The Final Check: After all is said and done, check the seams once more to determine the longevity of the jacket. You want these sturdy and intact as a leaky seam will leave your efforts fruitless once the jacket is put back to the test. This is also the time to know whether or not to say goodbye. In this instance, any sort of bubbling of flaking on the inside of the material is proof that the jacket is starting to fall apart and can’t be fixed. And while it may have been a great ride, it’s time to begin researching replacement options.

Our Pick: Filson NeoShell Reliance Jacket

Boasting a super waterproof and breathable shell, waterproof zippers, taped seams, and hard warper pockets, it’s clear Filson has their bases covered with this handsome rain jacket. Additionally, each Reliance comes equipped with their 3-layer NeoShell fabric that adds a bit of wind-resistance into the mix as well.

Purchase: $395

The Gear You'll Need

Always at the Ready

  • Gear Aid Seam Sealer ($7)
  • Nikwax Tech Wash ($10+)
  • Nikwax Spray-On Water Repellent Treatment ($14.50)

Fortunately, this is one of those scenarios where getting the gear doesn’t break the bank. Here, we suggest picking up an industry favorite: Nikwax’s Spray-On Water Repellent and their Tech Wash. Remember to use the Tech Wash first, rinse the jacket, then liberally apply the Spray-On and let dry. Also, we included some seam sealer in the mix as well in case you have a seam tear or two that could use a little TLC. After all is said and done, you’ll gain a new respect for your preferred jacket, likely continuing this routine year after year. It’s all part of the golden rule of gear: be kind to it and it will be kind to you.

Waterproof vs. Water Resistant

In case you need some clarification, here’s a breakdown of waterproof vs. water-resistant gear and clothing.